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Understanding Syllables

Reference > Literature > Poetry > The Bard

Before you can begin writing poetry in most of the English poetry forms, we need to start with one of the most basic building blocks of human speech: the syllable.

What is a syllable?

Every word you ever say is made up of syllables. Some words have lots of syllables, while other words have just one or two. What is a syllable? Well, one definition puts it like this:

A unit of pronunciation having one vowel sound, with or without surrounding consonants, forming the whole or a part of a word.

Want me to put that in simpler terms? Basically what it boils down to is this: every time you make a vowel sound, you're saying a syllable.

Be careful, though; you might be tempted to think that you can just count the vowels in a word to find out how many syllables the word has, but that's simply not true. The syllabic count and the vowel count may not be the same. Consider the following words, which were all used in this paragraph:

  • careful - has three vowels, but only two syllables, because the "e" is silent.
  • though - has two vowels, but only one syllable, because "ou" is pronounced as a long "o" sound.
  • syllabic - has two vowels, except that "y" is functioning as a vowel, and the syllable count is 3.


Find at least two more words in the paragraph that begins "Be careful", which do not have the same number of vowels as syllables.
How many syllables does the word "poetry" have?
How many syllables does the word "bookkeeper"have?
List three words that each have two syllables.
List three words that each have three syllables.
Give one word that has four syllables.
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Stressed and Unstressed SyllablesStressed and Unstressed Syllables

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